Business secretary Lord Peter Mandelson today slated Sir Christopher Meyer, former chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, calling him a “slightly absurd individual” whose successor was out-performing him.
During a speech to a group of regional newspaper lobby correspondents, Mandelson said he thought current PCC chair Baroness Peta Buscombe, who was also at the House of Commons lunch, was already doing a much better job since taking over from Meyer at the head of the PCC in March.
Mandelson also spoke at length to the annual Newspaper Society event about the government’s commitment to support regional newspaper journalism.
He said: “This journalism is the bedrock of local democracy and public life. We all know that local journalism faces the same challenges that other media faces; Declining readership, diversion of advertising and interest online; and over the last year the recession has hit revenues very hard.”
He added: “A healthy culture of local news is a public good and the government can’t just wash its hands of some responsibility for sustaining that public good.”
Mandelson said that the government was aware of concerns about the withdrawal of government advertising from local newspapers and of the threat posed by local council-owned freesheets.
And he reiterated the Government’s support for the idea that the £130m of BBC licence fee currently allocated towards paying for digital TV switch-over should be used to fund independent regional news consortia outside the corporation.
He said: “This is a question about whether an entirely commercial market for news or broadcasting provides the plurality and objectivity the public demands”, adding that the economic events of the last two years should have “made us a little more careful” to “abdicate” responsibility to the markets.
Raising again his concerns about the “deal” he believes has been done between the Conservative Party and the Murdoch family in exchange for the political support of The Sun newspaper he said that he was worried about the impact on the British media of the policies that the Conservatives will deliver.
Mandelson said that these would include less impartiality in broadcasting BBC and Ofcom “being cut down in stature to give greater space to commercial providers for them to charge more”.